Commissioner clarifies Garda powers as major Covid-19 policing operation kicks off this morning

Gardaí to patrol the country this weekend to ensure compliance with new lockdown measures

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

Commissioner clarifies Garda powers as major Covid-19 policing operation kicks off this morning

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris at the press conference earlier this morning

Gardaí can be seen out in force today as the latest restrictions prompt more panic buying and a rush to the supermarkets in Longford and nationwide.

A total of 2,500 members of An Garda Síochána are on duty today in an effort to enforce the new regulations put in place by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said that the vast majority of people do comply with the regulations and that is likely to continue. But members of the public should still know that the current Covid-19 crisis will not stop gardaí from continuing with their core functions.

"But we're also focused on our core functions in respect of the prevention and detection of crime, protecting people through proactive policing, preserving public confidence in the organisation, through providing timely information but also pursuing our ethos of community policing by seeking out those who are vulnerable and making sure that they are receiving assistance and don't feel alone at this time,"  the Commissioner explained at a garda press conference this morning.

"It's very clear that people shouldn't panic at this time. You can go out and shop. You can go out and have medical appointments. You can go to your chemist. If you're an essential worker you can travel to work," he added.

"But otherwise, stay in your home unless you have an essential reason to leave your home. And we will be enforcing that in terms of people's travel and their movements. We'll be asking people, encouraging them and informing them. But in the end we also have an enforcement role as well.

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"So our function is to do our very best to make sure we promote the advice that the HSE have provided to reduce the social transfer of Covid-19. And we'll be playing our full part in doing that."

Gardaí have not officially received their powers of regulation from the government but Commissioner Harris has said they are expected to come through within the next few days.

"But in the meantime, there's still a lot that we can do in terms of informing people, encouraging their compliance and really just making sure that everyone is aware of what our function is in terms of enforcing these regulations," he said.

"The difficulty is there will be people in our society who make poor choices. But they very often make poor choices and there is a whole array of powers available to members of An Garda Síochána to deal with individuals and we will not be found wanting in doing so. We will receive the regulations very shortly and then we will be in a position to enforce those as well.

"But in the meantime, in effect, we're taking a graduated response by engaging with people, informing them and then persuading them to avail of the safety regulations as have been set out by the HSE."

People should only be leaving their homes for an essential reason such as going to the shops, medical appointments or to work if they are an essential worker. Gardaí will now be stopping people who are out and about and asking them about their movements.

"We now legitimately need to ask people are they on an essential trip. And the essential trips have been outlined - shopping, health appointments, going to the chemist, or else you're an essential worker or else you're on some form of exercise close to your home," said the Commissioner.

"So there's no travelling from your home to some other point of exercise. So we will be asking people, informing them and reminding them of what the regulations are. The sanctions will be set out in the regulations and they will follow through in terms of our enforcement and reporting them for prosecution."

Gardaí today are focusing on having "a good strong presence" to make sure that there is no panic buying, and gardaí in Longford are already visible in the streets this morning to ensure new regulations are observed.

"We want to encourage people that there is a good food supply. There's no need to worry about food supply. You can go to the shops - that's an essential journey," said the Commissioner.

"We have spread ourselves right across the country to provide reassurance but also carry out other functions around the prevention and detection of crime, but also making sure that people can travel on the road safely. We want to keep road collisions down as well.

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"We always have worked with the community. We're very much a community based policing service - we obviously want to maintain that and promote confidence in the organisation by being responsive to the public, but the public and all of us in this collective situation, have been told what the advice is. We've been told what the regulations are and what they'll mean. It's now for us all to comply with those - every single one of us."

The Commissioner added that the gardaí would be stopping people who are travelling to ensure their journey is essential.

"There's obviously going to be a means by which we will be stopping individuals and making sure their journey is essential. We'll have to apply discretion on that," he said.

"If an essential worker has got ID and then some form of description of what their work is that we can examine at the roadside, then that's fine. And we will want to be clearer and clearer with people what is expected.

"There is a large set of essential workers in this country - all sorts of very important services beyond the sales and other emergency services. So there will still be a lot of people moving to work and just how we manage that, we will do that in conjunction with government regulations and government direction."

The Commissioner also addressed concerns that crime gangs would choose this time to act, and explained that, while gardaí will be busy assisting the community, the day-to-day functions of garda members will not be affected.

"We've still maintained our detective capability. We still have another number of graduations in terms of our mobilisation, what we can do. But we've been deliberate about making sure that our organised crime capability still is in place. You'll have seen recent warnings from Europol in terms of how organised crime is using this situation and the fears that individuals have to exploit it for their own purpose," he explained.

"And what I would say is that people should be very careful about scams on the internet and email type scams. Organised crime is engaged at the moment right across Europe and obviously the people of Ireland are a target for that. People should be very concerned if they see offers around testing kits or some snake oil type cure. All of these things are nonsense and they're just there to swindle you out of money."

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